Cult's heads denied custody of child

The Arizona Daily Star/January 15, 1978

District Judge Joseph Ryan has refused to turn a 4-year old child over to the two leaders of a Druid commune who have asked to adopt the youngster.

The judge placed Russell Lynn Brasher Garcia, the son of former commune members, in the custody of the state Health and Social Services Department after a hearing Friday. He ordered the agency to investigate the case and report back within 30 days.

The case was combined with one from Valencia County, where Judge George Perez ordered Russell and another commune child placed in temporary state custody.

Gerrie L. Garcia, also known as Laura Copeland, and her husband Richard Garcia, also known as Norman Copeland, state in their petition for adoption that Russell's mother, Lois Elaine Brasher, consent in writing and that his father, Joe Brasher, abandoned the child.

Court records indicate that the Brashers are divorced.

Ryan held that Mrs. Brasher's consent was void.

Much of the testimony centered on the cult's lifestyle while living in communes near Ramah, N.M., and Witch Wells, Arizona.

As the parties testified Friday, officers searched for the bodies of two other commune children who reportedly died while the cult lived in Arizona. The children allegedly were buried there, then dug up and moved to Ramah.

Cult members said one child was stillborn and the other died at several months.

Garcia said the Brashers didn't want the child.

"Lois didn't want anything to do with the children and neither did Lester. They were just splitting," she testified. "Lester had already given Russell to me. They have two other children.

The high priestess testified that she promised the Brashers, in a ceremony held 21 days after the child's birth, that she would rear their son.

She said she felt the child's natural parents would wreck his life.

The Brashers have joint custody of two other children, Nicholas and Pandora.

Garcia acknowledged that she cannot have children of her own. She denied charges of abusing children of other commune members.

The cult has 12 members living in several apartments in the city's Southeast Height.

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